March 15 2011
Is Gender Equality Really the Most Important Issue of the Week?
If you had to choose the most important news event taking place this week, what would it be? The earthquake/tsunami/radiation leak in Japan? Libya's potential civil war? The budget battle taking place here at home?
Or - drum-roll, please - gender inequality (in America, of course!)?
Good grief. Does this White House ever know when to stop?
Yes, March is Women's History Month, and the White House just released a report, Women in America, it's eager to advance. So, despite the unrest around the globe, President Obama chose to focus his weekly radio address on the status of women.
What's even more frustrating than his choice of subject is the attitude toward women held by this White House: namely, that women are a victim class in need of special protection and policies by the federal government.
That's why I thought I'd take a moment to respond to a few of the president's claims:
"In education, there are areas like math and engineering where women are vastly outnumbered by their male counterparts. This is especially troubling, for we know that to compete with nations around the world, these are the fields in which we need to harness the talents of all our people."
Despite the fact that roughly 50 percent of medical school students are female, and veterinary classes are (on average) 75 percent women, Democrats are determined to help solve the "crisis" of women in math and science - or, more specifically, the underrepresentation of women in these disciplines. Of course, the question remains for President Obama: Is full parity in the sciences necessary for women to achieve equality with men?
"And, today, women still earn on average only about 75 cents for every dollar a man earns. That's a huge discrepancy. And at a time when folks across this country are struggling to make ends meet - and many families are just trying to get by on one paycheck after a job loss - it's a reminder that achieving equal pay for equal work isn't just a women's issue. It's a family issue."
Discrimination is not a significant reason why women, on average, earn less than men. I fully acknowledge there are bad employers out there who might still discriminate against women. But in the aggregate, women are outperforming men in terms of college-graduation rates, advanced degrees, purchasing power and even, in some areas, earnings. The differences in pay between men and women come down to choices. Choices women - and men - make have costs. But costs are the result of a woman's free choice, not an injustice imposed on her by society.
And then, the coup de grace:
"In one of my first acts as president, I signed a law so that women who've been discriminated against in their salaries could have their day in court to make it right. But there are steps we should take to prevent that from happening in the first place. That's why I was so disappointed when an important bill to give women more power to stop pay disparities - the Paycheck Fairness Act - was blocked by just two votes in the Senate. And that's why I'm going to keep up the fight to pass the reforms in that bill."
The assumption behind protective measures like the Lilly Ledbetter Act President Obama refers to above, as well as the Paycheck Fairness Act, is that the workplace is openly hostile toward women. While there are individual bad employers out there, too often lawmakers don't consider how legislation like this would affect good employers. Regulations intended to protect women (or any group, for that matter) increase the cost of employing women. Ultimately, when the risks of hiring women become too high, it makes it unlikely businesses will want to employ women at all.
This is not the first time the White House has been charged with being out of touch with the American people. But as Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told CNN on Sunday, "the president's establishing priorities." Indeed. But, like so many women, I'm concerned about those priorities.